by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Trump, who is surrounded by people who fancy themselves “nationalists” (in the cause of what nation, it is not entirely clear), is wading deep into an ancient puddle of stupidity most recently explored by Barack Obama (remember his “nationalist” moment, which lasted for about a month in 2011?) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the woman who (accidentally) did more than anyone other than Kellyanne Conway and Hillary Rodham Clinton to put Trump in the White House. To call it “economic nationalism” would be too grand: It is merely a very narrow form of special-interest politics consisting of backdoor handouts to favored corporate interests.
Trump has signed an executive order organized around two themes: “Buy American” and “Hire American.” In sum, the executive order is intended to provide incentives for American businessmen to . . . not act too much like the guy who built Trump Tower with illegal-immigrant labor and who relies on the H-2B visa program to keep Mar-a-Lago stocked with dishwashers and housekeepers. That guy, if we are to take Trump’s rhetoric seriously, is kind of a jerk, one who doesn’t care about the country at all.
The “Buy American” order is, in Trump style, pretty vague, with a lot that will need to be filled in later by people who know what the hell they’re talking about. (Fortunately, he does have a few of those around.) It makes minor administrative changes to existing “Buy American” federal procurement rules, which date back to the “Buy American Act” passed in 1933, a year not renowned for the excellence of its political and economic ideas. Bad call, Herbert Hoover.
The Buy American Act essentially requires that the federal government go to U.S.-based providers both for raw materials such as steel and concrete and for finished goods such as computers and automobiles. Because this is incredibly stupid and fundamentally unworkable, there are waivers: Washington loves a waiver — see the Affordable Care Act.